Author’s note: The following is an expanded version of a reflection prepared for the senior men’s retreat for Bishop Denis J. O’Connell Catholic High School in Arlington, VA, where the author teaches theology.
The Gospels overflow with stories of Jesus’ healing miracles. Some are detailed, some are in passing. One gets the impression that Jesus became a walking hospital, curing all physical ailments for everyone who came to Him. But what we often forget is that not every healing of Jesus was of the body; some people were sick in spirit. Their healing was of a restless heart, to use St. Augustine’s image, a heart of stone, or at least of uncleanliness. Distant from God, these souls realized that only in God could they find rest, and that only by approaching the Divine Physician would they be healed. Jesus came to heal all, the physically sick and the spiritually sicker.
We know well the stories. We know how He healed the blind and the lame. Sometimes it took a simple word or no words at all, a mere look or touch from Christ. Sometimes He used mud or water, but oftentimes he used nothing. Sometimes He touched those whom He healed, while other times He healed from far away.
One thing is clear in these stories: Christ only heals those who want His healing. We forget that too often. We forget that Christ only heals those who believe in Him, who trust Him, who want to be healed. We forget how He reacts to those with great faith, and also how He reacts to those with little faith. We forget how, in our own lives, we embrace or reject Christ. God does not make us love Him, since coerced love isn’t love at all.
A few healing stories make this clear.
A leper approached the Lord, asking to be healed, saying, “Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean” (Matthew 8:2). Lepers were not in the habit of coming close to people; in fact, they were exiled to the caves outside the city. Lepers tended to stay away from cities and non-lepers. Yet Jesus draws all men to Himself, even those who find themselves outside the comforts of everyday living. Note that the leper doesn’t come to Jesus and say, “If you can, please heal me.” There is no question in the leper’s mind: Christ can heal him. The leper wants to know if Jesus wants to heal. Of course He does. This is, of course, the Good News, the Gospel, of Christianity, that we have a God that not only can heal us, but wants to heal us.
Jesus speaks His reply to the leper, as He does to us today: “I do will it. Be healed” (8:3). And the leper is healed, not only because Jesus willed but because of the leper’s trust and faith in Him. Take, then, the lesson from the story: we too must approach with the leper’s request, that we too might be healed. Like the leper, we are in exile from where we belong, namely, in the presence of God. We are sick. Christ wants to heal us, but He will not if we are unwilling to have Him in our lives. We must leave our self-imposed exile and approach Him, responding to His call.
A story recounted in Matthew 8:5-13 is perhaps more remarkable. A Roman centurion’s beloved servant is dying. Climate change will do that to a person, though there might be something more than the atmosphere plaguing the centurion household. Remember, the Roman centurion is a pagan, a worshipper of Jupiter and Mars, a polytheist who controls Judea, and therefore controls the lives of those who live there, including wandering healing carpenters. Yet to Jesus comes this same centurion, a soldier approaching a king. The pagan turns to the Jew and begs for healing. Jesus agrees, for He heals those who have faith. But then we have what is perhaps the most astounding act of faith by any gentile in all of the Gospels. The centurion responds that he is unworthy to have Christ enter under the roof of his house, and instead asks Christ to heal from a distance: “Say the word and my servant shall be healed.” Then comes the strange comment from the centurion: “for I have men under me, and I say to one ‘go,’ and he goes, and to my slave ‘do this’ and he does it.” What faith! Here is a man who controls the lives of 100 Roman soldiers, who could demand anything of Jesus, and he states he is unworthy to be in Christ’s company. Jesus says in reply, “In no one in Israel have I found such faith.” The centurion had faith without seeing the sign. How much more should we rely on Christ, having seen His work.
The third story is likewise dramatic. A paralytic, so immobile that he had to be carried to Jesus by his friends, finds in Jesus the source of his healing (Luke 5:17-26). Jesus is surrounded by listeners, and the friends of the paralyzed man must find a way to Him. They tear apart the roof over Christ’s head and lower their friend down to the Lord. What faith! Jesus looks at the man, marvels at their faith and heals the man, allowing him to walk. But first, before he is made to walk, Christ says to the paralyzed man, “your sins are forgiven.” This shocks and angers the scribes and Pharisees, since only God can forgive sins. Jesus’ remark that it is easier to say “your sins are forgiven” than “rise and walk” points to the mentality of many of His followers, for whom the forgiveness of sins is unheard of, but the miraculous healings seem expected. How strange a world! The friends brought the paralytic to Christ for physical healing. Why then the forgiveness of his sins? Because, as Christ points out, the healing points to the higher reality: “But so you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins, I say to you, rise, pick up your stretcher and go home” (Luke 5:24).
There lies the key. All of Jesus’ miracles are signs of something greater, as all signs are. In particular the miracles of healing point towards Christ’s mercy. As fantastic as Christ’s healing miracles are, they are nowhere near as fantastic as Christ’s mercy towards us and his willingness to forgive us our sins. If He can heal a paralyzed man, a dying pagan, and a man suffering from leprosy, then He can assuredly forgive our sins.
So we turn to Christ, healer of our souls. Christ heals our broken bodies, but He also heals our broken spirits, our broken hearts. How else could Isaiah say of Christ, “by his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5)? No sin is too great for Christ. If Christ can raise people from the dead, the ultimate act of physical healing (see the story of Jairus’s daughter, Luke 8:40-56), how much more can he heal our soul? No sin is too great, no rejection too permanent. Only in that final rejection, where we refuse his last graces, would we be finally lost. God gives us what we want.
Go to the Divine Physician. Go to Him. He will give you what you need, as much as you ask. Go to Him in your brokenness and weariness. Go to Him, when you find yourself lost and in pain, when you find yourself exhausted by what plagues you. Do not force crosses upon yourself. Do not shun his glorious offer. Lay yourself at His feet. Remember, He did say:
Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy and my burden light (Matthew 11:28-30).
It truly is Good News.